WOW | People

Unheard Voices

Text by: Pabita Dahal

wow photo file © Ram Tandukar/Gokul Shrees

Location: Los Escobar’s, MUA: Nilam Paudel

Coming out is possibly the hardest thing to do for the LGBTI. The untold truths of living a dual life, owning your truth, and standing alone to find you place in the world; in this edition, WOW talks to six individuals from the LGBTI community to share their journey. Excerpts.

Elyn is a transgender man who works as monitoring and evaluation officer for LGBTI child rights project at Blue Diamond Society.

ELYN BHANDARI 27 years old

Growing up: It has been six years since I have come out as a transgender man publicly. Since I was 12 years old, I used to dress up and behave like a boy. I realised I was different when I became attracted to girls. I thought it was only a phase. But then I googled about how I was feeling and learnt about lesbians. I only realised that I was a transman after I arrived at Blue Diamond Society.

Coming out: It was in grade 12 when I started my hormone therapy and started to shave. When my brother questioned my appearance, I requested him to treat me as a brother even if I was his sister. At first he was shocked but later became my biggest strength. I became more open about my sexuality through Facebook although some of my friends started to block me from their social sites. Gradually, changes took place in my body due to the therapy. My dad questioned me multiple times about my behaviour. It took a long time for my parents to accept me as a transman, but I never forced them. Instead I gave them time and now they respect me as an independent individual.

People do not notice me as a different gender appearance-wise. However, when I was partaking in hormone therapy, it was really difficult to live a normal life due to my voice and appearance. While traveling on public transport people called me vulgar words. Moreover, using a public toilet was one of my biggest challenges.

Society: I am frank and love to talk with people. In addition, most of my friends are from the queer community and a few of them are cisgenders. We go to the Pink Tiffany restaurant to hangout and sometimes to other cafes too. In comparison to the past, people have become more positive towards queer people. But in the rural area, people are still conservative; parents exclude queer members from their family.

It took a long time for my parents to accept me as a transman, but I never forced them. Instead I gave them time and now they respect me as an independent individual.

Relationship: I am not dating anyone right now but I was before. In order to be my partner, one should accept me regardless of my gender identity and should be understanding and have a ‘never give up’ attitude.

The Law: The Constitution promises to provide equal rights to all genders and sexual minorities. However, the implementation is extremely weak and there are no procedural laws. The hormone transplant service is not available in public hospitals and is available at private hospitals however they are too expensive. So, it would be easier if government hospitals provide such treatments at affordable prices. Personally, I am finding it challenging to change my name in important and legal documents; my citizenship and school certificates are in my previous name, Alina. My citizenship category is ‘O’ but I could not change my name. So, queer people should get the right to change their name, they should have the opportunity to apply and get jobs in careers of their choice and qualification. The government should also include them in the quota system.

Message: Once you come out of the closet and reveal your identity you will become the happiest person and feel relieved. There are many people who will support you, love you, and you will be able to live your life to the fullest.

A day in your shoes

Getting up, going to office, attending meetings, going to yoga class in the evening, returning home and spending time with family.

If you were PM for a day

Legalise queer marriage.

A super power you wish you had

I want to get into the mind of people and eliminate all the negative thoughts regarding queer people.

Samir is gay and currently pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in travel and tourism. He volunteers for social development programmes organised by Blue Diamond Society and Family Planning Association of Nepal.

SAMIR KHANAL 21 years old

Growing up: I was feminine from an early age. I loved going to the clubs and dancing and to this day I love it. Due to my girly behaviour my siblings, friends and even teachers used to tease me. I was not able to answer back since I was confused about my own feelings and behaviour at the time. I was also horribly insulted due to my looks. I thought there was no way to go forward, I used to sit alone in the corner.

My siblings discovered about my sexual orientation through my tagged photograph with other gay men. My brother passed that news on to one of my relatives which then made my sexual orientation the hot news for my community. It became tough for me to walk in the public; people called me Chhakka and Hijara. I was humiliated at such a deep level that even to this day I remember the time and the person and every insult hurled at me. My siblings also blamed me for disgracing the family and told me not to leave the house but my mother is very supportive.

Coming out: Though I did not know of the existence of multiple sexual orientations, I was fascinated with handsome men from an early age. I used to feel abnormal among others and felt there was a problem in me. I became fully clear about my sexuality when I was in class 12. For the first time, I posted a cover photo tagging my gay friends on Facebook and officially came out of the closet

Society: I have both queer and straight friends. But I don’t feel that comfortable hanging out with cisgender people.

I was humiliated at such a deep level that even to this day I remember the time and the person and every insult hurled at me

Relationship: I am not in an official relationship right now but was dating a while ago. I met my partner through Grindr dating app. He is still in the closet and doesn’t dare to come out. He has even agreed to marry a girl if he must. I tried to convince him that if he does not want to come out it won’t matter, what matters is his love and his presence, but he was not ready which is the reason we ended our relationship.

The Law: Nepal is quite open and free for queer people. If they show some courage and fight for themselves, they can live a respectful life as positive changes are taking place.

The issue of rape is discussed with only concern for girls in Nepal or even animals. If animal rape is possible, how can we not assume that boy rape doesn’t take place? It is the biggest issue I want to attract attention to. People are curious about how gays have sex and attempt to experiment with us, even one of my relatives tried to harass me. So, I want the government to implement laws and regulations concerning this issue.

Message: I urge all queer friends to come out. It may take time to be accepted, you may cry for some days, months or years, but you will feel free.

A day in your shoes

Get up, go to college, return home, sometimes attend programs related to LGBTI, research opportunities for volunteering. Most of the time I spend on learning and researching. I want to go abroad for my further studies, so I am preparing for it.

If you were PM for a day

Legalise queer marriage.

A super power you wish to have…

Power to bring the Hollywood singer Ariana Grande to Nepal. She is very supportive of gay people. I believe her songs will spread awareness.

Kusum Bista is an intersex lesbian working as an office supporter in Blue Diamond Society.

Kusum Bista 22 years old

Growing up: As I am intersex, my family and nearby society knew my sexual orientation during my birth, therefore, they consider me as a normal child. But the school environment was not friendly. As my appearance was different and I was shy by nature, no one wanted to talk and sit with me. I used to sit alone on the last bench and teachers did not pay attention to me as they would always focus on the ‘talented’ students who would sit in the front. Due to this discrimination and ignorance I could not continue my education after SLC.

Social life: I have both queer and cisgender friends. We go hangout at parks such as the Garden of Dreams, Tribhuwan Park, temples etc.

Relationship: Personally, I have never dated anyone yet. It is not easy for queer people to date as it is for straight people. Gay and transgender female have separate dating apps. It would be helpful if there were different apps for other categories to find a partner.

I would like to be with an intersex girl who has the heart to accept me and both families should accept us together.

If you come out, you would be able to live your life with pride. It will be tough at the start but later you will find supporters.

The Law: Instead of putting all categories of queers within one umbrella term of ‘O’, we must get our identity depending on what we want to call ourselves.

I strongly believe that awareness is important. Most of the people in our nation do not know about queer identities. If the school syllabus includes different kinds of sexual orientations, children would be able to identify themselves at an early age.

Message: If you come out, you would be able to live your life with pride. It will be tough at the start but later you will find supporters. I believe you will become happy and you will not have any regrets.

A day in your shoes…

Wake up, go to the office, come back home and tell friends and family about my day.

Your favourite hangout

Garden of Dreams, Tribhuwan Park

If you were the PM for a day…

Make nationwide awareness programs about LGBTI.

A super power you wish…

I want to have the power of going inside the minds of people and make queer people’s parents accept their children without hesitation.

Nilam Poudel is a transgender model and makeup artist. She has also appeared in movies such as Romeo, Jaya Shambhu and Bir Bikram 2. She works as a personality development trainer for models and is associated with Mitini Nepal.

NILAM POUDEL 28 years old

Growing up: My family never questioned me about my sexual orientation but my main struggle was in school and society. I loved dancing and singing since I was a child; I was a dance teacher for the junior class. People used to call me vulgar names and call me Chhakka because I was shy and had a soft voice. I felt comfortable around girls and using the boys’ toilet was a challenge for me. Teachers would punish me because I was friendly with the girls.

Coming out: Even as a child I felt different but I did not know whom to talk to about this. I found out that I am transgender through a magazine article in class eight. I then told some of my girlfriends who were supportive. Aphisa, sister Prasna, Nirikshya, Dipshikha, Bina, Namuna are some of the girls who supported me from the beginning. I hid my sexuality for two years after I realised that I was transgender. After SLC, I opened up about my identity through a radio interview. I was so scared that my family would reject me. I did not go home for a week after that interview but when I reached home dressed with makeup, fitting dress, I was surprised that they accepted me. My father always told me that I have to be independent and self-made. When my family is there for me I don’t care what society thinks as they don’t pay for my life.

Society: We often hangout at the Aila Lounge. If my followers, relatives or friends want to meet me, I always meet them there. I love to meet new people. I have more straight friends than queers. But I enjoy hanging out with queer people too.

Organisations are not ready to employ queer people except certain institutions like BDS and Mitini Nepal.

Relationship: I am single right now but was in a relationship before. After we ended our relationship, I was depressed for awhile. But now I am better.
Currently I use the skout dating app. But while using it I talk to people with my true identity. I wish my life partner to be kind, respectful, trustworthy and able to accept the real me.

The Law: It is a good thing that we get a citizenship and a passport with the ‘O’ category. But being citizens with the ‘O’ category, we are regretting it now. Organisations are not ready to employ queer people except certain institutions like BDS and Mitini Nepal. Even NGOs which promised to work in favour of the LGBTI community hesitate to involve us even if we are capable and qualified. The Constitution has mentioned that sexual minorities have equal rights. But the implementation is weak. I want queer people to all have rights that cisgenders get. I am however satisfied that we have a chance to speak, walk and work freely.

Message: Whoever you are, be you. Build your confidence. Create your own happiness, don’t depend on others for your happiness. Come out and live with pride, no one can break you. You will have wings to fly forward. First of all, be open with your family, convince them by giving good examples and they will certainly be convinced.

A day in your shoes

Wake up at six, pray, surf the internet, drink green tea, clean room, go to work (if I have work), if not, spend time with my friends, experiment with makeup techniques etc.

If you were PM for a day

I would create an old age home, because I feel very bad to see old people living in Pashupati without shelter.

A super power you wish you had

I want to have wings and go everywhere, even heaven and bring my dad back.

Rukshana is a transgender woman who refers to herself as an indigenous queer rights activist. Courageous and energetic, Rukshana is a social activist associated with multiple organisations: queer youth group (founder member), queer rights (collective member), Newa Movement, Youth Voices Count – Asia Pacific (core working group member), Youth LEAD Asia-Pacific.

RUKSHANA KAPALI 20 years old

Growing up: At a very young age, I enjoyed girly activities. I used to be fascinated by my female teachers and behaved like them. I was never comfortable with male groups. Everyone used to comment on my way of walking, talking etc. To avoid negative comments and being called girly, I pretended to be masculine through my hair style, clothes and discussions about girlfriends etc. I still had to listen to abusive words and being called Chhakka, Hijra. The harassment at school was terrible and continued to get worse which lowered my confidence. I used to think of ways which would enable me to be considered normal. Due to the extreme bullying, I used to have suicidal thoughts and would keep myself isolated. I felt disconnected with the real world and got attached to the virtual world since there were people online who I could relate to. I once shared my feelings with some of the girls at my school about some of the boys I was attracted to. Their reaction disappointed me as they thought I was diseased.

Coming out: I had a feminine personality since I was a child. I was also disgusted with the physical changes during adolescence. In grade eight, I discovered my sexual orientation after learning about Caitlin Panta, offspring of famous comedian Santosh Panta who changed sex from male to female. When I learnt the word transgender I started googling it and discovered other terms as well like homosexuality, bisexuality, intersexuality etc. I spent lots of money and time in a cyber cafe which is where I discovered that I was a transgender.

In grade nine, I posted that I was a transgender through facebook which triggered a negative response. The school turned into a nightmare due to daily bullying and arguments with my classmates. I received calls from all of my relatives who spat negative comments at me. My parents did not want me to act in a ‘girly’ manner, however after some time my mom accepted me, though my father took time to do so. It has now been more than five years since I came out as a transgender woman. I believe that you can’t force someone to respect you, neither do I seek that respect, but I ensure that I refuse to be disrespected.

Society: The social scene for queer people in Nepal is miserable as public spaces are often dominated by cisgender heterosexual individuals who stare at us. It is very offensive to be stared and laughed at on the streets but that does not stop us from hanging out. I have now learned to ignore and confront harassers. My home is close to Yala Laaykoo (Patan Durbar Square), and we hang out there quite often as I love the idea of reclaiming public spaces. On a positive note, I believe that physical assault is rare in Nepal with the transgender community.

I have friends from diverse backgrounds, however, I usually hang out with my queer friends. We usually go to clubs and eat at the Pink Tiffanny restaurant, owned by a transgender woman and which is a queer-friendly space. The verbal harassment and negative behaviour of others does not prevent us from going to different places. But, of course as non-binary persons we are compelled to be careful in public spheres.

Due to the extreme bullying, I used to have suicidal thoughts and would keep myself isolated.

Relationship: As the queer community itself is diverse, our experiences are different as well. As a transgender woman, dating for me is challenging. There aren’t any safe and friendly spaces for queer people to date. Most of the queer dating occurs virtually. I have also joined dating apps such as tinder along with other transwomen apps. Usually, those men who claim that they are attracted to transgenders use the most transphobic and humiliating language as that they are simply trying to get you in bed. I don’t mind a ‘no strings attached relationship’ but I feel that the approach the men use violates me in different ways. Nepalese men have toxic masculinity approach towards us as if they own us and we owe them sex. I have also met few Nepalese men who are respectful and understand what consent is and do not show this toxic masculinity.

I have a long list of traits that I want in my future partner: someone who is interested in social issues, is an activist, not patriarchal, openly admits that he loves transwomen and also is assertive of their sexuality, affirms to indigenous and ethnic movements, respects personal spaces and does not attempt to control their partner.

The Law: The Constitution of Nepal mentions about the ‘right of gender and sexual minorities’, however, none of the laws and policies address our issue properly. The Constitution explicitly states that anyone who is eligible for citizenship would get it according to their gender identity which secures our right to get citizenship. But the gender marked as ‘other’ is the word that separates us from the mainstream genders. The Supreme Court has defined gender identity to be decided by a person’s determination of what they want to call themselves. But, there are no provisions for transgenders to change their birth name and gender after the gender transplant. If we go to authorities asking for the change, they ask for medical evidence of being a transgender. If I say I am a transgender why would they want proof of my gender. Therefore, as people with two names we even have problems getting into universities.

In 2016, the Supreme Court permitted same sexes to live together which is a great achievement but the language is problematic. Same sex only includes cisgender, gay and lesbians but not other gender diversities. It limits transgender people into heterosexuality. So, it should be addressed as ‘marital equality among all genders’.

Message: The younger generation of queer activists don’t claim that every queer come out in the open as it is risky to be visibly different in society. It does not matter if you are open or in the closet, you are still worthy as a human being. But, if you are thinking of coming out, I would suggest you to make smart decisions as this can change your life forever, in positive and negative ways.

Your favourite hangout

Yala Laaykoo, Patan Dubar Sqaure, Thamel, Bhaktapur

Favourite dating app


If you were PM for one day

I would introduce a bill for gender and sexual minorities. I would start holding discussions and meetings with every group which has been historically marginalised by the state. Without addressing historical dominant inequalities, we will not be able to move forward.

A super power you wish you had

I want to have the power of being able to appoint all the ministers and people at the decision-making level. If I had this superpower, I would have removed the current state heads and formed a new council where all the marginalised groups of Nepal take part equally and have a meaningful role in the decision-making processes.